Malcolm Turnbull

It was on! And then it was over.

Perhaps its timing yesterday late afternoon was unexpected, but Malcolm Turnbull calling for a Liberal Party leadership ballot was not.

Tony AbbottAlthough I was caught out by Julie Bishop playing an active role in calling for a vote. While the tension between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott was on clear display for a long time, the relationship between Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott always appeared to be one of mutual respect, support and trust. I was clearly wrong in that respect.

Tony Abbott has been leading the nation on borrowed time. His government has been lurching from crisis to crisis since its election two years ago, and its unpopularity was unparalleled in Australian political history.

The nation is at a crossroads, and Tony Abbott, and his captain’s calls, were not taking Australia in the right direction. Our economy has been struggling, social justice has been eroding and our culture had become stagnant.

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While I feel Tony Abbott should perhaps been allowed to serve out his full term, with the Australian people deciding his faith at the next federal election, the nation did not have the luxury of another 12 months while continuing on the downward trajectory of the past two years.

In my view the Australian Labor Party is not yet ready to govern. I don’t believe they present a credible platform for regaining government. With Tony Abbott we have seen the example of a Prime Minister, and a government, being elected not because they were deserving of victory, but because Kevin Rudd, and the Labor Party, became unelectable.

Over the past two years we experienced the standard of government such a ‘victory’ delivers. Could the nation afford another election in which Bill Shorten, and the Labor Party, triumphed not because they deserved to win, but because people could no longer stomach Tony Abbott as leader?

This was a genuine case of damned in you do, damned if you don’t for Malcolm Turnbull. Thankfully, his 54 to 44 victory is a strong enough base to build on, and Julie Bishop’s support is also a vote of confidence, considering she has been one of the strongest performing Ministers of the Coalition government.

Malcolm TurnbullWith Malcolm Turnbull at the helm, the Liberal Party may now have a chance to be victorious at the next election. The Australian Labor Party will also have to step up its game to be seen as an effective opposition, and a credible alternative.

However, changing leaders won’t be enough. Countless Coalition policies are on the nose. Unless there is a serious realignment of current government policies, changing leaders alone may lead to a temporary popularity surge, but will unlikely be enough to save the Coalition.

We know Malcolm Turnbull is predisposed towards policies which are likely to carry favour with the electorate, from climate change to marriage equality. This opens the door to the intriguing possibility of a genuine alignment of leadership, good public policy and popularity.

Jeff Kennett launched an extraordinary attack following the announcement of the leadership challenge. He described Malcolm Turnbull as a ‘self centered, selfish individual.’

I disagree with Mr Kennett strongly.

Malcolm Turnbull destroyed the National Broadband Network for Tony Abbott, despite his personal judgment as evidenced by every facial-muscle, at every public appearance indicating he knew what he was doing was wrong for the nation. He also voted against marriage equality, despite his stated personal position in support.

If that’s not a team player, I don’t know who is!

I see that betrayal of the national interest, social justice, and personal principles to toe the party line, serious disqualifying factors for Prime Ministership. However, if he changes direction as leader, given the relative freedom that position will afford him going forward, he may just make up for those errors of judgment in time for the next election.

I am also confident the Australian public will stand behind this move by Malcolm Turnbull. While self-interest no doubt played a part in the move, this is politics after all and who would not want to be Prime Minister if it’s within reach, Australians will understand ending Tony Abbott’s leadership was very much in the national interest. And let’s not overlook the fact Malcolm Turnbull has been the publicly preferred leader of the Liberal Party since before the 2013 election, and throughout Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership.

When Malcolm Turnbull made his formal announcement, it was as is he was speaking to me directly:

We need a different style of leadership.

We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities, explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it.

We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.

It remains to be seen how many compromises Malcolm Turnbull had to make on the very policies that would set him apart from Tony Abbott, in order to secure support for his challenge.

But a word of warning – if he fails to deliver on issues such as climate change, asylum seekers, and marriage equality, the game may be over for him before it begins.

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